Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

May 30, 2011

Amazing What You Can Find...

The Worldwide Web is an extraordinary resource. Yes, it can be a black hole of time. But, if you are patient enough, and if you dig in the right places, you can find images and video of the tiniest and most obscure critters. This little poacher only grows to 3.4 inches. It lives at shallow depths from the intertidal zone to about 60 feet from Kodiak Island to central California. Meet the little-known Rockhead.

May 28, 2011

Tarpon Fishing - Another Perspective

Not the fish, but maybe her offspring:
So, upon return home, I had the following conversation with Vickie, the wonderful woman who helps keep my home in order. She does not fish...

Vickie: So... where did you go?
Me: Tarpon fishing! We got up at 3:30 in the morning and we were fishing by 5:15.
Vickie: In the morning, for fish?
Me: Yeah! Big fish -- Tarpon.
Vickie: Tarpon. What kind of fish is that?
Me: Huge. Jumps. Runs like crazy. The first one I caught was 160 pounds.
Vickie: 160 pounds? 160 Pounds?
Me: Yeah. Took me about 45 minutes to get it to the boat. Slammed me into the bow.
Look at my knees. See the bruises?
Vickie: The fish did that?
Me: No, the boat did that to me when the fish took off. I almost went over. But we got the fish.
Vickie: Did you eat this fish?
Me: No! I mean, no. We let it go.
Vickie: So, you got up at 3:30 in the morning to get bruises from a fish that you let go.
And you paid money to do this?
Me: Yeah.
Vickie: Well, everybody's got something.

:) It's an addiction only fishermen understand :)

May 25, 2011

Tarpon Fishing. Is There Anything Better?

Finally getting the girl to the boat:


I grew up in New England. Wicked cold winters. When we were little, my Mom would bribe us: for each 'A' we got in school, she'd treat us to a ski trip. At one point, we'd racked up so many 'A's' that she was pulling us out of school to go skiing. The principal didn't like this. He told her, "Mrs. Kells, you shouldn't be taking your children out of school to go skiing!" Her response? "Well, they're getting 'A's' aren't they?" Good point.

And what does this have to do with fishing? Well, back then the skiing in the Northeast was hit or miss. If you hit the slopes after a snow storm, the skiing was great. If not, you skied on rocks and ice. We didn't care - we didn't know anything else! It wasn't until many years later, when I lived in Steamboat Springs, did I experience 'real' skiing. Powder. All the time. And it spoiled me rotten. Never skied in New England again. I hear they've got good snow machines now, but who wants to listen to that noise?
I digress...

I've done a lot of fishing in my 49 years. Not as much as some, but more than most. Inshore, offshore, wreck, reef, beach, inlet, sound, bay, marinas, harbors, rivers, ponds, creeks... you name it. I took my first Tarpon trip a year ago. It was a combination "Congratulations for finishing the book, and Happy Christmas" present. I didn't know what I was in for, but I knew I wanted to catch Tarpon. I'd heard the stories and seen the pictures. Well, just like skiing out West, catching Tarpon on the flats of the Florida Keys has spoiled me rotten. Nothing like it...

This year we were up at 3:30... Met Pat and his boat at the marina at 5... Tied to the pole in the channel by 5:15... We were rigged and were fishing by 5:30. I felt a tug on my line and was hooked up at about 5:35. The sky was still dark, and I had 160 pounds of Tarpon on the end of my line. Big fish. Strong fish. Determined fish. Leaping fish. That fish had 40 pounds on me and eventually took us a mile from where we started. I almost gave up, and I NEVER give up! My back began to cave, my legs shook, my hands cramped, and sweat ran down my face. I'd get her close, then she'd take off, or she'd dive and hold tight. Captain Pat encouraged me, pulled on the leader when he could, then let go when the fish ran again, and again. The rod bowed so low it ran against the gunnel. The fish shot off so fast, I was slammed into the bow. When I finally got the fish to the boat, when she finally cried 'uncle', the sun peeked over the clouds. What a gorgeous animal! The eyes! The scales! The power, the beauty. If I could have, I'd have dived in to hug her.

I pushed back my tears, Captain Pat cut her lose, and I fell prone and heaving on the bow. My knees and shins were bruised. My left hand was curled into a 'monkey paw.' "Holy Shit! Goddam! I didn't think I could do it!" To which Pat said, "I knew you could do it. Good job. Now, up! We need to find the pole so we can catch 'ya another." A short while later I hooked a 140 pounder. Another old girl. Another long test ensued. My husband caught two more, and when the tide went slack we hit the flats and caught our share of Bonefish under clouds so ephemeral they didn't seem real.

That evening I flopped into bed, passed out, rose again at 3:30, and hit the water for round #2. 100 pound Tarpon? 120 pound Tarpon? No problem!

Tarpon fishing brings out the best in you. It reveals your character. It takes patience, skill, tenacity, courage, and a depth of determination you may not know you have, until you go against the big one. Do you have the will? Do you have the strength? Go Tarpon fishing. So what if you're spoiled? It's worth every dime and every mile. And you'll never lose the memories.


Captain Pat Bracher. Fish Overtime. Cudjoe Key. Top notch.

May 16, 2011

Protection, Recovery, and... New Species!

Photo credit: Gerald Allen
Bali is a well-known tourist destination. Scores of people travel to this Indonesian island to dive its extensive reefs. The Balinese government recently requested a survey of their reef's biodiversity to assess their health and to make recommendations for a large network of marine parks. Smart!
A team of scientists with Conservation International spent two weeks combing the reefs. Their findings? While reef sharks and wrasses are still rare, and plastic polution is still prevalent, the reefs are recovering from bleaching and destructive fishing. As a boon, researchers also discovered nine potentially new species.
I suspect with further protections in place, the reefs will continue to thrive. And maybe, rare or endangered creatures will prosper and be added to the list of 953 species of fishes that already populate Bali's reefs.
Click here to see the full gallery of new species.

May 15, 2011

Living Keychains. Gross.

Every once in a while, I'm stunned. This is one of those times. It's inconceivable to me how people can profit in good conscience at the expense of living, suffering, animals - no matter how small or domesticated they may be.
Yuck. Gross.
Click here if you want to be grossed out, too.

May 9, 2011

Oddballs and Monsters

This is true: I am married to a 'fish snob.' Let me explain... My husband, ABM, likes to fish but he is neither obsessive about fishing, nor is he overly appreciative of the oddballs. He likes trophies. Big fish. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to fish for anything and everything, in any manner. Don't get me wrong - if he's happy to paddle me around while I catch oddballs and sticks, that's cool. He's happy, I'm happy.

On this morning, I was either going to play golf or go fishing. I decided to go fishing on Chan's Lucky Pond and wore my golf shoes in case the fishing was slow. This pond is filled with about 7 acres of dark green, very fishy water. The Chan's had built and stocked the pond some 16 years ago. There are bass, brim, and channel catfish in it. On a good day, I can catch 20-40 fish. ABM had promised me he'd meet me for both activites, in any order.

When I arrived, I was on the phone with my ABM - still trying to persuade him to join me. He was being a tad wishy-washy, but said he'd be there shortly. I loaded up the Chan's little flat-bottom dinghy with paddles that don't lock...(rowing that dinghy in wind can be a bit dicey)...pushed off...rigged up a Yamamoto...and promptly caught 10 bass. I returned to shore, climbed the hill so I could get some reception, and summoned ABM again: "You gotta come. I'm tellin' 'ya, the fishing is awesome." He said he was on his way. I caught two more while waiting for him.

When he showed up, he didn't have a rod (typical), but he did have his camera (good omen). I offered my spare surf rod, but he declined and said he'd rather row. So, we switched spots on the boat and he ferried me around. I plied the little island and caught about five more bass. Then I asked him to move to a shallow area that I knew had nests and I knew would produce some hits. I caught a couple more bass then hooked something big.

When that bass hit, I initially thought it was a log. Then, it moved. I started to shake. "Holy s-it! That's a big one!" ABM said, "It's not a fish. It's a stick." I hollered, "That's no stick! That's a HUGE bass!" A few minutes later the fish came up. Holy smokes! It was ginormous! ABM snapped some pictures.

I started shaking some more. There was no way to turn off the adrenaline. My hands shook, my knees shook. The fish ran toward some branches. The spool (not full to begin with) ran low. I tightened the drag. ABM said, "Don't tighten the drag!" "The heck with that, I don't have enough line if this fish takes off!" When the fish went under the boat twice, ABM worried, "Don't break off..." I said, "It won't." And it didn't. When I finally got it to the side, ABM asked for a net. A NET!? "We don't have one, and we never use one! Grab her mouth!" He did. "Bring it in, bring it in!" He did. I think he was in shock because he couldn't get the hook out. He handed me the fish, I got the bent hook out, and he snapped a few more pictures. Then, I lowered her back into the water, resuscitated her, and let her swim off.

ABM said, "That was the biggest bass I've ever seen." Still shaking, I replied, "See? You should come fishing with me more often! 'Ya never know what might happen!"

Later, the Chan's confirmed it to be the largest bass to date. I think I'll buy them some new oars that lock... :)

May 6, 2011

Palau Shark Sanctuary

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Sanctuaries provide, well, sanctuary! A place for fishes to live, eat, and breed, in peace. Sanctuaries also help repopulate their surrounding areas. There are other benefits to sanctuaries, especially if the sanctuary happens to center in a stunning habitat like Palau.
Palau's economy clearly benefits from the sanctuary the nation has provided sharks. Sharks' presence on the reefs adds to the reefs' value. So, the sharks' value is tangible. If the sharks did not add dollars, would the country have created a sanctuary? I don't know. Would saving the sharks for the benefit of saving sharks been enough incentive to create a sanctuary? I'd hope so.
Click here to read the National Geographic article.

May 1, 2011


When I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1986 (!!), one of my first clients was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Back then, the MBARI program hadn't yet been developed. When the deep sea subs finally made their maiden voyages into the trenches, the scientists brought back dozens of newly discovered critters. One of my assignments was to illustrate the animals -- or more specifically, put them back together. Because, when they were brought to the surface, they literally fell to pieces.
Deep sea animals are soft, fleshy, and adapted to intense pressure. They can't withstand the lack of pressure at the surface.

Anyway, I'd meet up with the scientists and they'd hand over jars of what used to be a fish, or a squid, or a siphonophore. There was no video, no photos to help me. Somehow we managed to recreate the animals, and the illustrations were published in educational brochures, booklets, and on note cards. I no longer have the original illustrations, and I'd given back the specimens. The images and the jars of critters are just memories now.

Amazingly, I just discovered the above video on the MBARI site. I remember the squid with one eye larger than the other! The 'Dumbo' octopus, and the jellies. Anyway, it's a nice glimpse into the deep, rare places off the California coast. Enjoy.